By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal Corinth Bureau
TISHOMINGO – The future of the now-shut down Crow’s Neck Environmental Education Center is looking brighter.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns and took charge of the property July 1, is preparing to offer the facility back to state, county or local governments to reopen at the leaser’s expense.
Meanwhile, the Tishomingo County Board of Supervisors earlier this month passed a resolution to get the center operating again. They have asked neighboring Prentiss and Itawamba counties to partner with them in the effort, since Northeast Mississippi Community College and Itawamba Community College were part of the founding group for the facility.
“The Board of Supervisors really wasn’t approached about it until early this year,” said District 4 Supervisor Steve Thorne, in whose district the education center is located. “We knew it was going to close, but there was really nothing any one person could do.”
Thorne, however, is spearheading efforts to bring some of the parties involved in the project back together to make it work as a corporate retreat facility as well as for environmental education.
“I think we could get some revenue coming in, because I understood before it was hard to generate money off just school kids and groups,” Thorne said. “I’ve talked with some employers who would hold one or two retreats a year, and others said they’re interested, too. The clientele from the past is probably still there, but we need money to operate on and start out on a smaller scale.”
After offering the property back to the state, county or local governments for renewed operation, if that is not successful, the next tier of prospects to use the facility would be nonprofits, said Lisa Coghlan, spokeswoman for the Corps Mobile District.
“It would not be open to any type of commercial concession,” Coghlan said. “If there are no takers from any outside agency, it will be returned to Corps properties and mothballed, because right now we just don’t have the funding to maintain it.”
If a coalition of groups moves to reopen the environmental center, one nonprofit that would consider ways it could support the effort is the Nature Conservancy in Mississippi, said spokesman Jim Murrian.
“I’ve never been to the site, but I understand it is an outstanding facility,” Murrian said. “It is not something traditionally that the Conservancy does, but I’d like to think about it a little more, do some research. Whether we operated it or anything, we do support environmental education and we need more, not less. It’s disturbing to lose a resource like that, and we’d like to help others think about how to preserve what’s there. I know some of the organizations that have really been involved in this and offered our support as they thought we could be helpful.”
The 530-acre property on the shore of Bay Springs Lake was operated from 1993 until June as an environmental education center and hosted about 4,500 school children each year. However, the main lodge and cabins around the property also accommodated churches, clubs, businesses and other groups for offsite meetings and retreats.
For the last 10 years the facility was operated by Northeast through an agreement with the Tombigbee River Valley Water Management District.
Northeast notified TRVWMD last year that it was no longer able to be the sole support for the camp, and spent the final months of operation trying to attract donations from other sources.
The center requires a commitment of at least $300,000 for operations, Northeast officials said, and the college committed $50,000 for the next fiscal year, with the Mississippi Development Authority promising a one-time donation of $50,000.
Thorne is organizing a meeting soon of groups who have shown interest, and will follow up with the other counties on creating a partnership.
“I feel like it can work,” he said.